The St Stephen’s Project – summary

The St Stephen’s Project – summary

The sharing of a multi-functional space in a 1000 year-old consecrated building in the heart of Exeter.

  • The aim of the St Stephen’s Project is to support local community and charitable groups by providing a shared and accessible venue – St Stephen’s – with appropriate facilities in the very centre of Exeter. St Stephen’s stands on a central site in a commercially thriving city centre and has been a beacon of continuity in an ever-changing city for about 1000 years – including being the only building in this part of Exeter to survive the ‘blitz’ in 1942. It opens directly onto Exeter High Street with thousands of pedestrians passing its doors each day.

  • Currently, about 80 charitable and community organisations share use of St Stephen’s to publicise their activities, recruit members and raise essential funds for their cause. There is no charge for such use – the cost of heating, lighting, insurance etc. is shared by all.

  • Regeneration of Exeter city centre has recently been completed. The Project complements this commercial activity by providing a centrally-located venue and facilities for a variety of non-commercial community activities. Such use has expanded in recent years in a building that required much repair and refurbishment to make it ‘fit for purpose’ for 21st century community sharing.

  • A rebuilding master-plan, first prepared in 2004, provided five distinct phases in the Project. While linked in sequence to each other, the five phases each stand alone and are commenced only when funds to pay for the proposed changes in that phase are available; each also allows for continued use of St Stephen’s should funding for the next phase become difficult. The five phases are: high level external repair to the roof and tower; low level repair to the external and internal walls and ceiling; the provision of internal community facilities – west end; further internal facilities east end, and a new entrance on the south side of the building. The first two phases have been completed and the works for the third and fourth phases are planned to be finished by the end of June 2012. Phase 3 includes a re-designed entrance from the High Street, an internal ramp, changes to the levels of the floor to permit wheelchair access, a new gallery and staircase, the provision of new meeting rooms and a servery all with emphasis on the needs of those experiencing hearing, sight or mobility difficulty. New heating and lighting systems are also to be introduced. The fourth phase continues on from Phase 3 and allows for a pre-1350 sanctuary at the east end of the building which is currently boarded off to be re-opened as an heritage information centre. Essential storage and other facilities are also to be made available. The Saxon crypt (not officially visited since 1826) is also to be explored during this Phase. The final Phase 5 – provision of an additional entrance on the south side of the building – will be undertaken when funding and permission to undertake this work have been obtained. A serious attempt is being made to combine the old and the new as 1000 years of Exeter’s history meets the needs of a modern 21st century community.

  • Management and financial control procedures for the St Stephen’s Project are in place and prize-winning architects have been commissioned to guide this work. Architectural, archaeological, structure, heating, lighting, accessibility, safety and cost survey reports have been completed. All necessary permissions to proceed have been obtained. Local and national consultations with a variety of organisations indicate strong support for the concept of shared community use of this historic Exeter landmark. Both the Exeter City Council and the Devon County Council have formally endorsed the Project. Patrons of the St Stephen’s Project are the Lord Mayor of Exeter, the Bishop of Exeter and Exeter’s Member of Parliament.

  • This project is one of the largest community efforts seen in Exeter involving scores of community groups and a tried and tested volunteer organisation. It has taken nine years and involved the raising of £1.5million; 99% of the works cost to the end of Phase 4 has been raised and we now seek the final £27,500 to finish the job. The public opening of the renewed building is planned for July 2012.